Published: Fri, November 30, 2018
Health Care | By Belinda Paul

Scientist Who Gene-Edited Babies Speaks at Conference, Addresses Controversial Research

Scientist Who Gene-Edited Babies Speaks at Conference, Addresses Controversial Research

Daley spoke Wednesday at an worldwide conference in Hong Kong, where the Chinese scientist, He Jiankui (HEH JEE-ahn-qway) of Shenzhen, also is scheduled to speak.

The Chinese scientist who sparked near-universal criticism for his claim of creating the world's first gene-edited babies has reportedly been suspended without pay and placed under investigation.

He spoke at a conference this week in Hong Kong, providing a small - and so far only - look into what exactly his experiment entailed. The medical necessity of the experiment was questioned, along with He's responsibility for the lives of the gene-edited children, and how the modification could change the gene pool of the human species in future generations. In previous discussions of how gene editing could potentially be used, many scientists have agreed that it should be applied only to prevent serious genetic disorders without alternative treatments.

Upon questioning, He even dropped this bombshell: "There is another one, another potential pregnancy", suggesting that there could be a second pregnancy with gene-edited babies.

"I haven't seen any of the research and I don't know what he is planning to claim", Baltimore said.

Following He's address Wednesday, Nobel laureate David Baltimore said that "it would be irresponsible to proceed" with similar experiments "unless and until the safety issues had been dealt with". When the eggs and sperm were combined, the scientists also added a CRISPR protein that had been "told" to alter the CCR5 gene.

He's experiment would be prohibited under Chinese laws and regulations, according to state media CCTV, citing remarks by deputy minister of China's Ministry of Science and Technology Xu Nanping. He disclosed that a second gene-altered pregnancy is now underway, AP reported. He was scheduled to speak again at the conference on Thursday, but he left Hong Kong and through a spokesman sent a statement saying "I will remain in China, my home country, and cooperate fully with all inquiries about my work".

Dr He, responding to questions from the audience, said: "The volunteers were informed of the risks posed by the existence of one potential off-target, and they chose to implant".

On Monday, China's National Health Commission ordered an immediate investigation by local authorities in Shenzhen and Guangdong province, according to Xinhua. He claimed he spliced the genes to become more HIV / AIDS-resistant.

Dr He, who was educated at Stanford University, said the twins' DNA was modified using CRISPR, a technique that allows scientists to remove and replace a DNA strand with pinpoint precision.

Dr Daley said that just because the first case may have been a mis-step, this "should in no way, I think, lead us to stick our heads in the sand and not consider the very, very positive aspects that could come forth by a more responsible pathway".

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